ALEKS returns slightly higher grades

Victoria BresnahanNews Editor & Tamonda GriffithsNews Writer

According to the Interim Associate Dean for the Arts and Sciences Department Craig Hlavac, the DFW rate for Math 100P is “still unacceptable.”

However, new data from the School of Arts and Sciences stated the DFW rate–the number of students receiving a D, F, or withdrawing from the course–has decreased by 2 percent from fall 2017 to fall 2018.

However, the DFW rate for all three semesters remained above 50 percent.

In fall 2018, the number of students that received A’s or B’s increased by 5.7 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. The number of students receiving C’s decreased by 6.7 percent, 2.9 percent for D’s and 6.1 percent for F’s. Overall, the withdrawal rate increased by 6.9 percent.

According to Mathematics Department Chairperson Leon Brin in Math 100P the ALEKS program works on a “mastery basis.” While the program is an adaptive system which utilizes artificial intelligence, Brin said a student will sometimes find themselves unable to finish the program. This could be because they run out of time to complete the remaining number of topics.

“There’s no slack, there’s no leeway for that person  currently [in 100P],” said Brin. “That person gets an F despite the fact, you know, they’re really close.”

In the upcoming semesters, however, Brin said Math 100P may be replaced by a new course, Math 100E.

“[100E]’s a little more forgiving,” said Brin. “100P is not forgiving the way it’s set up.” The primary reason for the creation of 100E is to minimize the hardline between failing and doing well, said Brin. Students who are close to advancing to the next course, but not close enough, will now receive a solid C instead of failing.

With Math 100E, Brin said if a student earns a C, they would be able to “carry over” the objectives they previously completed into the next semester and start the ALEKS program where they left off.

“In theory, under this model,” said Brin, “they could even work during the breaks.”

However, to advance onto their LEP required math course, Brin said a student would have to earn a C+ or better.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert Prezant said some of the emporium style models—such as the one in Hilton C. Buley Library–are based on the original in Virginia Tech.

Lecturing via a professor is not a component in this course. Prezant said through emporium style learning, a student garners more independent, selfpaced learning.

“So, you go at your pace in a sense,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you can take forever.”

Math Emporium Coordinator Elizabeth Hart said over the summer, in Southern’s Educational Opportunity Program, she and her colleagues decided to chart student’s progress. Hart now also requires professors to spend a certain number of hours in the lab.

Hart said she wants to be able to encourage students to keep working at a reasonable and steady pace to possibly complete the course early.

“[The course]’s definitely time consuming,” said Hart.

At his prior university, Montclair State, which uses an emporium style learning method, Prezant said over time he saw a turnaround in how effective emporium style learning was for students; he finds this currently happening at Southern. He said faculty, administrators and staff at Montclair also had to “learn how to do it right.”

Considering that students come from different high schools and have disparate levels of knowledge in math, Prezant said the independent style could help these students more.

“Every institution is going to find its own path,” Prezant said.

While the Math Department is analyzing what was done to create this positive uptick, Prezant said it would be beneficial to hear from students who took the course.

Hart, a former high school math teacher, said it is out of a student’s control as to what their curriculum will include in high school.

“Schools teach things in different places,” said Hart. “There are schools that call things different things and group things differently, or even focus things differently.”

Math Emporium tutor Sabrina Silva said tutors are assigned a class to help specific students in the courses, as well as attending lab hours.

Silva, who took Math 100P, said it is important for students to be proactive. Some students are overwhelmed by the course, she said, and are not necessarily lacking in understanding towards the material.

“I feel like a lot of students don’t take it as seriously in the beginning,” she said.

When a student has a question, a tutor and a professor are available for help, said Silva. If a tutor is unsure how to answer the question, the professor steps in. While she said most of the time a professor is available, at night, they are typically alone.

According to an email from Robert Sheeley, associate vice president for capital budgeting & facilities operations, it cost $1,184,000 to construct the Math Emporium.

Prezant said the cost of the emporium is not playing a factor into any lack of change in the program.

Hlavac said there are currently no plans to eliminate the ALEKS program.

Photo Credit: August Pelliccio

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